The Joy of Solitude


I am sitting on a tall Ikea stool, writing on my iPad at the kitchen counter, in an apartment on Madrid Etorbidea in the Amara neighborhood of San Sebastian, Spain. I am at the epicenter of my spring journey. Alone here in this space between social adventures, I am clearing up work that has been neglected and creating new things for upcoming events.

The dishwasher is whirring, cleaning my coffee mugs and overnight-oats bowl. The neighbors are leaving for work or school, chatting in a language I don’t understand. My husband, who was raised here and speaks fluent Spanish, left two days ago. Yesterday, I ventured out to the market for the first time alone, having practiced “Lo siento, no hablo español” many times. People were very nice about it. Some spoke English with me, some just gave me what I pointed at, the Cherimoya and the banana (plantain?). I feel braver now. Later, I will walk along the river to the old town, eat gluten-free pintxos and read The House on Mango Street, my beloved book companion found in a local bookshop’s small but excellent English section.

I’m tired, finally resting. Before I left, there was the messy chaos of preparation — the early release of my book, making materials for the talks I’m giving and the workshops I’m teaching, re-starting an online course and editing the self-published book that goes with it. Most challengingly of all was the strategic packing, fitting exactly what I’d need for my seven-week journey around Europe into a carry on, and no more.

It’s fair to say that I was stressed. That is really fucking fair to say.

(Perhaps you see the “f” word as empty bottles of soda and cardboard containers for fries, carelessly tossed out, blighting an otherwise lovely sentence. I don’t find swearing litter. A well-placed swear is spice, an accent, a decoration that perks up a room, an attention-focusing art object. A swear is punctuation. I swear in any company, which is perhaps not my best quality but something I apprectiate about myself, the willingness to say exactly what I mean.)

This week, there is much work to do, preparing for the next steps of my journey. Learning experiences to cocreate with an inspiring and talented team, a book chapter to finish, an agenda to finish for the writing workshop where, for the first time since Covid, I’ll be in a room with people writing together. There’s social media to feed, like I’m a Sea World trainer and it’s a dolphin.

I don’t wanna. I resist bringing my full attention back to focused work, like a toddler who doesn’t want her face washed. After a week in Bucharest, teaching and speaking with super smart cohorts and attendees, where we formed a temporary speaker family in Discord, stayed up late drinking kamaze shots and smoking a usually-verbotten cigarette. Where we visited castles together, napping in the van on the drive up. After a romantic week with my husban eating all the amazing food in San Sebastian (Akalerre is heaven on earth), hiking the beautiful trail along the ocean, cheering for the local soccer (fútbol) team from pitch-side seats.

I need to calm down, settle in, let the pursuit of other people’s company, the hunt for perfecto gluten-free Basque cheesecake, the seeking of external pleasure … go.

Let it go. Let go of seeking happiness and find it (again) in solitude. In my work. In my movement practice and doing the dishes and reading a book and, especially, in writing. As delightful as the world around me is, it can never satisfy me the way gathering my attention can.

Perhaps you are making a dubious face, doubtful and confused. I wouldn’t blame you. Especially if you are American, like me, raised in the land of “consuming is the path to happiness”. What I’ve discovered is, I don’t need anything to make me happy. Happy is what I naturally am. I only need to remember.

Yes, there are things and experiences that absolutely make me happy Akellare! Fútbol! My dogs, my home, my car. Money enough to take care of them. (Poverty does not make me happy.) In the past, I have put myself in situations that were fundamentally untrustworthy, unstable, unconcerned with who I am authentically. Situations that didn’t love me back. I needed to leave those situations in order to be happy.

I’m not saying that I don’t need or want anything. Of course I do. I am not saying that I would be happy in a Siberian prison, there are fundamental necessities.

I’m saying that I’ve lost decades of my life running around desperately trying to find happiness when it was hidden inside of me all along. Like Dorothy, I went to Oz and discovered there’s no place like home. Home is my own experience. Solitude, connection without consuming, my ability to love my work and trust that it loves me back.

Still, I don’t slide effortlessly and easily into solitude, like it’s comfie slippers or sweatpants. I cling to the fun, wishing it was never ending, that life was the Guardians of the Galaxy ride in Epcot. More cheesecake! I crave the attention of my peers. I feel homesick.

Yesterday, rather than enjoying the work, I made a task lists and checked the items off, driven by fear economic ruin if I don’t do enough, work enough, know strategically the correct business decisions to make today. ANSWER EMAILS. I’m anxious and afraid, it’s easier to do things that calm my fear, like double checking travel arrangements, invoicing, or proactively communicate so nobody is angry or frustrated with me.

What I want most in life is wisdom. Hearing the voice of wisdom requires letting go of the noise and listening for the signal. Doing deep work that matters. As much as I love the Basque cheesecake, it will not nourish me.

Off, then, I go to nowhere, to make a cup of tea. To publish this post and work on the next chapter of my book and the workshop I’m teaching, alone and with a wonderful group of colleagues. To stretch and read and breathe.

I love my life. Truly deeply madly. I don’t need anything more right now. I don’t even want anything more than focus, the joyful creation of things. My pleasure-seeking brain still balks at doing yoga or opening my laptop. I wonder if I’ll always feel this resistance, distracted by the desire to go elsewhere, do something else, even when everything I need or want is right here. Perhaps.

Perhaps all I can ever do is practice coming home.

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